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I’m in a subdued airport terminal corridor at eleven pm. Everyone hurrying by looks tired and desperate to get home. We feel the same. We have just spent the week in Spain surrounded by fresh fish, terracotta buildings and plenty of sun. I am standing with my family on a 'travelator', which is moving along at a sedate pace. I scroll through a slew of bland PR emails on my phone, and then spot something that makes my stomach do a grand jete.
Vogue Talent Contest 2011- Result.
“Dear Rosalind, I am delighted to announce that you are the winner of the Vogue Talent Contest 2011...”
“Oh my Jesus!”
My mum turns around, looking concerned.
“Is it bad news?”
I shake my head and babble.
“I’m the winner! It says I’ve won!”
News of this email travels down the single file line of our family and friends in a Chinese Whisper. My dad asks if I’m sure. Where was it sent from? Is it a friend’s hoax? Nope, it’s real. I need to sit down.
The Vogue Talent Contest has been held every year for the last 60 years. Previous winners include novelist Owen Sheers and Vogue contributors Charlotte Sinclair and Harriet Quick.
The entry requirements are straightforward: to be under 25, and to submit three written articles – a memory, a polemic and a cultural review. It is the latter, written by me that can be found in the current October Issue of UK Vogue on page 204. I titled this third piece (Agri)cultural Review – it uses elements of parody but is also part commentary on an event in the rural calendar. Ironically this was the one I had fretted about most, as I hadn’t visited any galleries or shows since before my surgery in October 2010. It was the last of the three to get written, and was something of a wild card in terms of the idea and inspiration.
The other two entry pieces will be posted on my blog in the coming weeks. All three were written in Spring – and were continually polished, re-worked re-drafted and pedantically edited for several weeks. I worked on them at the same time as I prepared for my art exam, and geared up ahead of revision season. The envelope addressed to Conde Nast was finally posted in a fluster on the day before the closing date, sent by Recorded Delivery.
A letter telling me I had been shortlisted, replete with Alexandra Shulman’s signature, arrived the day before my final GCSE exam. I was so shocked I could only squeak and hyperventilate, like a set of dropped bagpipes. There was just one drawback. On the day of the lunch to which all finalists were invited, at Vogue headquarters in Hanover Square, I was due to be in a plane on the way to Spain. Being shortlisted was, by itself a huge honour that I rode high on, but how I wanted to sit down to lunch with the editors and writers I admired. I think I may have sulked. Alternative flights were sought, but it was fruitless. All the feverish internet activity didn't turn up a way to get me on holiday a day later. There were no flights available.
It was several days later when I had already emailed Vogue to inform them that I would, sadly, not be able to attend, that our friends (with whom we were holidaying) rang to let us know they had found an alternate plan – an available flight to a tiny, recently opened airport. If I could make my way across London to Heathrow on the day after the lunch then I could join my family in Galicia. There was no question - I immediately emptied my bank account to book the new flight.
This was how I found myself waking up as the sky stretched its arms and yawned very early on a Friday morning. I was driven to the train by a friend, to be met at the other end by the wonderful person I call my ‘honorary uncle’: Clive Boursnell – an extraordinary photographer who then captured me walking into the Conde Nast building (he positioned me twice, oblivious to antagonising surrounding traffic!) He had also entertained me on the tube journey and quick cafe visit with his anecdotes and tales of Bea Miller, Bill Gibb and Cecil Beaton. So, the top three photos and the one below are with thanks to and courtesy of Clive.
After a fair degree of indecision, the outfit I had chosen was as shown: a vintage Jaeger cream silk shirt, (charity shopped), tucked into my favourite St Michael’s vintage cream culottes, also second hand. Over the top was a full length cardigan (birthday present...from a charity shop), kept in place with a worn, pink leather obi belt from ebay. My shoes were Carvela – heeled brogues that clicked as I strode through the revolving door over to the reception desk. Gold letters above my head spelt out V-O-G-U-E.
After giving my name I joined the other finalists (eight of us in total - and they were all so interesting, engaging and talented, but most of all, friendly) who were piled up on a leather couch. We smiled and introduced ourselves. Our ages ranged from 16 (me) to 25, and among us there were students, graduates, interns and a science teacher specialising in astrophysics.
We were soon called upstairs, where we were each given a name badge and a glass of bubbly – served in glasses that curved out like lilies. The judges included Alexandra Shulman (UK Vogue editor), Julie Myerson (novelist), Jo Ellison, Emma Elwick-Bates, Lisa Armstrong and Frances Bentley.
There was a brief ‘getting to know each other’ and then we were ushered through to the lunch room. The walls were bright white, covered with monochrome portraits and fashion shots from Vogue’s illustrious history. Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton stared down at me and I felt my cheeks flush the same colour as my belt.
We were seated with a judge either side; the judges moving two places along after every course, meaning that each finalist had the chance potentially to talk with six other people. The conversations were informal – with Alexandra Shulman it ranged from discussing the Ballet Russes, the inspirational Tim Walker (who was one of “her photographers” that she had championed) and the V&A; then with Julie Myerson - scoliosis and University choices. Recurring themes were my spine, my school, my future and my age, (I was referred to as “the baby” more times than I've sat on late trains). I was overwhelmed when Julie Myerson described my piece about recovering in intensive care as having “no extra words” and feeling like a part of something bigger. I also discussed fashion and style blogs with a different judge, and we evaluated the future of blogging as an industry.
When the conversation and delicious food drew to a close a few hours later we were offered a tour of the Conde Nast building. As you can imagine, no-one turned it down! We first explored the offices of GQ and Tatler, before being ushered along to the floor that housed Vogue. The highlight was, of course the clothes - ooh the clothes. The sheer volume of garments was breathtaking. Whole rails of trousers; walls of cosy looking jumpers and capes; rows of shoes lined up neatly like schoolchildren; an extraordinary sequinned dress accessorized with feathers. A member of staff made a reference to staying in the office until midnight and I wasn’t surprised.
It was strange seeing the magazine stripped back to its bare components, like the switches on a circuit board or the chemicals in a concoction. The people I was observing were the ones responsible for a new UK Vogue plopping through my front door every month.
The final part of our tour led us to the basement, where the Vogue archives are housed. I could happily camp out there – shelves heaving with fashion and photography books, alongside large files with every back issue of Vogue (both UK and foreign editions) from 1950 onwards.
By the time I floated away from this extraordinary day of meeting inspirational professionals and incredibly talented finalists, I felt complete. I had already worked out who I thought would win, and I was just ecstatic to have been given such an opportunity. As far as I was concerned, being shortlisted and getting to attend the lunch was a prize in itself. I left for Spain the next morning, shouldering a sense of fulfilment on one shoulder, and a very heavy bag on the other.
After recovering from the shock of being told I had won, I remembered that the most incredible part of the winner’s prize is a month of paid work experience at Vogue, which I will complete next summer. All I will say is that I truly can’t wait.
See also Vogue.com here